Students of the prominent Central university Visva-Bharati – known for its association with Rabindranath Tagore – were in for a shock on Tuesday evening when a notice on its website mentioned that the research scholars will have to pay Rs 1,400 – a 28-time increase of the existing Rs 50 fee – for examinations and admissions. The notice, issued by the Joint Registrar (Examinations) stated that the concerned students will have to submit the fee till July 8 to seek admissions.
Speaking to Newsclick, students from the university, located in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, said that the manifold increase will particularly hit students from modest backgrounds and those from rural areas. Saurav Bandhu Das, an M.A. (History) student, told Newsclick that the increased fee may not sound as expensive to the well-heeled, but it was a "fortune" for those struggling in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken away employment opportunities.
"The universities have been bearing the cost of conducting examinations in pre-COVID-19 times, but now everything has been surrendered to the students; they will be buying mobiles phones for attending classes, recharging their phones for internet connectivity, uploading their own question papers etc. We have several students from Meghalaya and Manipur who have been struggling for access to the Internet. There are several others from the communities who don't own land. How will they pursue their studies when staying up here and studying alone here costs Rs 8,000 per month. We witnessed a heart wrenching situation here the previous year when a student who passed the entrance examination was about to sell his blood to arrange funds for admission. When a local officer got to know about the situation, he came to the student’s rescue. So, any increase in fees will hurt dedicated students like him,” Das said.
He added that the university, a Central one, could get funds from the agencies like UGC. "So, the increase cannot be justified. When we had gone to the authorities with our complaints, we were met with sheer ridicule by Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty," he said.
Somnath Sow, a student activist, said that the university, established by the litterateur Tagore, has only compromised its academic standards after the new VC took charge. "Tagore never wanted any boundaries within the campus. However, the degree to which democratic voices have been scuttled can be gauged from the fact that 80 faculty and non faculty staff have been suspended for arbitrary reasons," he said.
VC Runs it Like his 'Fiefdom'
Chakrabarty was in the news after he allegedly abused and insulted a senior professor of the university during an online meeting on June 8, 2021. The teachers said that during the meeting, which had been called to discuss the COVID-19 situation, they were abused and insulted by the VC, essentially for questioning his mode of functioning.
Rajib Ray, President of the Federation of Central Universities Teachers' Association, in his letter to the President, had raised concerns after several faculty members were handed suspension orders. "Teachers are being victimised through arbitrary suspension orders and show-cause notices that is affecting the academic ethos that ought to prevail in educational institutions. CCS Rules are being arbitrarily imposed in contravention of the Supreme Court order that clearly adjures against this. The demeaning comments of the Vice- Chancellor about faculty members as reported in the press reflect poorly on the office he holds," he had said.
"It is even more distressing that Visva-Bharati is no longer the place of Tagore’s dream, where people from all over the world meet to debate ideas, where pursuit of knowledge is most important. The fact that several teachers have been suspended or removed from statutory positions does not augur well for any educational institution," Ray's letter mentioned.
Condemnation for the VC also came from neighbouring Jadavpur University, where its teachers’ association said: ”The present Vice-Chancellor’s actions have not only jeopardised the stature and reputation of this unique university, it has also created a large question mark over the future of its present students, who may forever have to carry the stigma of having graduated from an institution that seems to care nothing for the values that led to its creation in the first place. Unless we want to see this institution of national importance dragged to the dust, it is the duty of every patriotic Indian to try and ensure that the former glory of Rabindranath’s beloved 'vessel' carrying his 'life’s best treasure' is restored before it is too late.”